Inbound Strategy

Understanding the When and Why of Content Marketing

There is a simple answer to the question, “ When is content marketing a good fit?” … the answer is “Almost always!” That’s not particularly useful though.

The more important factor is understanding why content marketing fits for your company. That answer will be different for every business.

But let’s start with the very broad times when content marketing is a good fit.

Content marketing tends to produce outsized results in cases where the target customer is likely to conduct extensive research that will influence purchasing decisions.

In many cases that research won’t even involve much direct product research. It could be that they are simply delving into a problem they have. Other times they may simply be exploring an interest or passion, curious how it can be pursued more deeply. Or they could be seeking information aimed at improving themselves personally or professionally.

The question of why they put in that effort is more useful.

Below are a few main reasons why somebody may be inspired to seek out the information that will influence their buying decision. Understanding those motivations will help you craft content that truly speaks to your audience and provides a distinct value.


The purchase is expensive

The most obvious reason people consume content prior to an important purchase is that they perceive the purchase to be expensive.

And it’s important to remember that expensive is a very relative term. It applies at different times for different reasons.

Anything that represents a large portion of your income is obviously going to be considered “expensive”. But something with a relatively low cost can still be perceived as expensive. If you’re going to pay a premium, that luxury needs to feel justified.

I’m a sucker for a fancy cup of coffee despite the shame of paying double. I’ve read about how premium brands differentiate their roasting process, how the Fairtrade label means the farmers are treated better, and even how writing in a coffee shop can increase my productivity. Whether I believe all that or not, it does make me feel better about paying for “expensive” coffee. “You win, hipster coffee shop. Here is my $4.”

Implementation will be time consuming

Spending is not the only type of expense we face. Sometimes monetary costs are a non-factor but the proper purchase is very important because of the time and effort it takes to implement.

I recently spent a hefty chunk of time reading and watching video to choose an email marketing tool. At the service level I was looking at, the main competitors were all free.  That didn’t make it an easy choice.

I knew I was going to spend a significant amount of time implementing the tool – setting up email collection widgets on my blog, creating email lists, building an email template, etc. If I made the wrong decision that time would be wasted. You better believe I did a lot of reading on the capabilities I should be looking for in a tool.

Purchases can be particularly difficult to implement in B2B because a business purchase may require buy-in from various departments. If I want a new tool at work, I need to convince the others. A poor choice could cost my time, cost my team’s time and tarnish my reputation at work.

The decision is difficult to reverse

Some purchases take on an extra level of importance because it’s difficult or impossible to change course if the wrong choice is made.

Consider the process of choosing a tattoo and an artist to ink it. If I’m unhappy with the result, I’m stuck with it. I have no doubt that the spontaneous drunken tattoo is still a thing… but many people put a lot research into that decision

It can also be more difficult to reverse a decision if subsequent purchases require compatibility. Anything that is a key part of an ecosystem fits this description.

For instance, if I buy a new baby stroller, I may then buy a car seat that clicks into it, a cup holder that fits it, a customized rainhood, a color coordinated diaper bag, the bassinet insert and much more… it’s not really a hypothetical – I bought all that crap. Haha. We read a great many blog posts and watched way too many videos before selecting that stroller.

The risk of failure is enormous

People will also put more consideration into a purchase when there is a very high cost of being wrong. In those cases you need to be sure they get the decision right.

A small business owner may need to hire a lawyer to assess their liability and draft customer contracts that protect the company.

Making the wrong decision could be catastrophic. If the attorney they hire lacks the requisite expertise or industry understanding, the contract they produce could leave the business open to a major lawsuit. That’s a decision that gets researched.

The audience has a problem and needs to discover solutions

Some problems have an obvious solution. If somebody needs transportation to work every day, it’s pretty clear that buying a car is one possible solution.

In other cases, your audience may not even know a purchasable solution exists.

Consider the situation faced by the Saas company, Slack. If you don’t know them, Slack is a team communication tool that puts all your communication in one place that is easily searchable. Their target customers are only half aware that they have a need for this type of tool, much less know to look for it.

But clearly content marketing was a good fit. In a single year, Slack grew from 15k active daily users to over 500K active daily. That wasn’t because people were Googling ‘tool to revolutionize team communication.’ Their content strategy was able to articulate a problem people didn’t know they had and gradually present a solution.

The choice makes them feel

What if the cost is low, there is no complex implementation, the options are clear, and the decision can easily be changed in the future. That doesn’t always mean a purchase won’t be heavily researched.

Buying decisions that are subconsciously aimed at satisfying some emotionally driven desire will inspire more research and thought, making it a perfect match for content marketing.

Fashion choices may be influenced by a person’s need to fit in or, conversely, to stand out. Someone may be influenced to donate time or money to a non-profit because it touches their sense of community. Having the latest tech gadget may appeal to your self-image as an innovator.

Emotional triggers can also be negative. Fear, for instance, is a powerful motivator in many purchase decisions. Acquiring insurance is always driven by the fear that something bad could happen. It’s dangerous to attempt to stimulate fear with your marketing, but understanding it’s inevitable effect can help guide your strategy.

Some combination of the above

In most cases, there a several contributing factors that make a buying decision feel important.

I’ll go back to that stroller example for this one. I bought a stroller. It was expensive as hell. Sure, it cost less than my rent, car, vacation or computer… but for a stroller, it felt really expensive. I needed to make the right decision because I also had to get all the accessories – which meant I couldn’t just sell it and buy another if I didn’t like it. If it weren’t sturdy, I felt as though my baby could pop out and land in the road… that would be a significant parenting fail. But at the end of the day, it was all worth it because purchasing that stroller made me feel like the cool dad – regardless of how it made me look.

If it’s not already clear, that stroller was the most researched purchase in history. Haha


  • When is content marketing a fit? – Usually – Whenever the buying process includes research
  • Why is content marketing a fit? – That’s different for every business and every buyer persona
  • Understanding why a purchase is important to buyers will guide your content strategy
  • Some common reasons a why a purchase becomes important enough to research thoroughly:
    • It’s expensive (or feels that way)
    • Implementation is time consuming
    • There’s no going back – the decision is final
    • The cost of failure is too high to risk
    • There’s a problem but no clear solution
    • The purchase will impact how the buyer feels
  • Most important purchases involve more than one of these reasons
  • New parents are the marketing equivalent of a bullseye